One of nature’s finest “soil scientists” is the earthworm. The earthworm is in charge of a lot of the processes that make our soil suitable for the growth of wholesome plants and the production of food for humans.
Earthworms function as unpaid farm labor. By carrying organic materials from the top down and blending it with the soil below, they assist in “turning” the soil.
One of the importance of earthworms in soil is the improvement it gives to soil health and this may be unmatched by that of any other living thing in the soil.
Making fertilizer is another intriguing task that the worm performs. In an acre of soil with 500,000 worms, 50 tons of castings may be produced.
Comparable to stacking 100,000 one-pound coffee cans with castings. The drainage system produced by these same 500,000 worms burrowing into an acre of soil is equivalent to 2,000 feet of 6-inch pipe.
I find that to be very astounding for just a tiny old worm. The presence of worms in your garden is a strong indicator of healthy soil.
The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) defines soil health as the ability of a particular type of soil to function, within natural or managed ecosystem boundaries, in ways that support plant and animal productivity, maintain or improve water and air quality, and support human health and habitation.
One of the main organic matter decomposers is the earthworm. Microorganisms that live on organic matter and in the soil provide them with their food.
Earthworms create tubular pathways or burrows as they crawl through the dirt eating. These tunnels can stay on the earth for a very long time.
Different earthworm species live in various soil habitats and have unique feeding habits.
Depending on how they feed and where they dig their burrows, they can be divided into three main ecological groupings. Each of the three types is typical and significant to soil structure.
- Epigeic species found in surface soil and litter
- Upper soil species – Endogeic species
- Anecic species, which are deep-burrowing species
1. Epigeic species found in surface soil and litter
Fig. 1 Epigeic species
These species inhabit surface plant litter or its vicinity. They are normally tiny and have evolved to survive on the soil surface’s highly fluctuating moisture and temperature conditions.
The epigeic worms seen in compost piles are not likely to live in soil because of the low levels of organic matter there.
2. Upper soil species – Endogeic species
Fig. 2 Endogeic species
Some species inhabit the higher soil strata, where they move around and reside. They eat mostly soil and related organic debris (geophages).
They do not have permanent burrows, and as they crawl through the earth, cast material gradually fills their temporary routes, passing through their intestines.
3. Anecic species, which are deep-burrowing species
Fig. 3 Anecic species
These earthworms live in more or less permanent burrow systems that can go several meters below the soil and are best represented by the “night crawler,” Lumbricus Terrestris.
They primarily pull surface debris into their burrows to eat. The mouth of their burrows may be blocked by plugs, organic waste, or cast (excreted earth and mineral particles).
10 Importance of Earthworms in Soil
Earthworms provide a variety of advantages through their work in the soil, including the following.
- Nutrient Recycling
- Improved Nutrient Availability
- Better Drainage
- Enhanced Productivity
- Strengthen Soil Structure
- Repair Damaged Soil
- Make Food Available to Other Important Species
- Encourage Microbiological Activity
- Improve Water-Holding Capacity
- Create Pathways for Root Growth.
1. Nutrient Recycling
Worms are tiny, ravenous animals that may consume their body weight in food each day.
Their food includes, among other things, dead plants, decaying leaves, fungi, bacteria, and even dead animals.
Worms break down and recycle this organic waste in the soil as they feed, naturally fertilizing the ground and ensuring that it is rich in essential nutrients.
Worm castings, or worm poo, are the byproduct of this recycling process and are the small mounds you may occasionally notice on top of the soil.
In comparison to the original soil, their casts can have five times as much nitrogen, seven times as much phosphate, and one thousand times as many beneficial bacteria.
This prevents soil degradation.
2. Improved Nutrient Availability
Worms consume soil and plant waste (dead roots, leaves, grasses, and manure).
Their casts are richer in readily available nutrients than the soil surrounding them because their digestive tract concentrates the organic and mineral components in the food they eat.
The castings contain nitrogen that is easily accessible to plants. Worm remains quickly degrade, increasing the soil’s nitrogen concentration.
According to studies from New Zealand, worm casts release four times as much phosphorus as surface soil.
In their tunnels, worms frequently leave behind nutrient-rich casts that promote the establishment of plant roots.
Additionally, the tunnels enable roots to delve further into the ground, where they can access additional moisture and nutrients.
Earthworm tunneling can help the soil absorb lime and fertilizer that has been given topically.
3. Better Drainage
Earthworms channel and burrow extensively, which aerates and loosens the soil and enhances soil drainage.
Up to ten times more quickly than soils without earthworms, soils with earthworms can drain.
Water infiltration can be up to six times greater in zero-till soils than in cultivated soils, where worm populations are large.
Under the impact of rain, irrigation, and gravity, earthworm tunnels also function as pathways for lime and other materials.
4. Enhanced Productivity
According to research on earthworms conducted in New Zealand and Tasmania, earthworms added to perennial pastures devoid of worms resulted in an initial increase of 70–80% in pasture growth and a long-term increase of 25%, which increased animal carrying capacity.
The most fruitful pastures in the worm studies contained up to 7 million worms per hectare and weighed 2.4 tonnes, according to the researchers.
With roughly 170 kg of worms per tonne of yearly dry matter output, pasture productivity and total worm weight were closely correlated.
5. Strengthen Soil Structure
To create water-resistant aggregates, earthworms cement soil particles together. These can retain moisture without leaking it.
According to research, earthworms that leave their casts on the soil’s surface help to repair the topsoil.
In ideal circumstances, they can produce 50 t/ha per year, which is sufficient to create a layer 5 mm thick.
In one experiment, worms created dirt that was 18 cm thick in 30 years.
As they dig pathways through the soil, earthworms also loosen, mix, and oxygenate it.
Enhancing its structure creates more room for water to drain from the surface and be stored in the soil.
According to research, soils devoid of earthworms can be 90% less effective in absorbing water. Due to increased water run-off, erosion and perhaps flooding may result.
Worms can enhance soil health, but they also prefer healthy soil and dislike severely unhealthy soil. Worms require moist soils with plenty of organic matter for them to feed on to survive.
So, farmers can fairly accurately assess the condition of their soil by taking a spadeful of it and counting the number of worms in it.
6. Repair Damaged Soil
In addition to maintaining the health of the soil, worms can aid in “bioremediation,” the process by which microorganisms consume and degrade environmental contaminants, turning them into non-toxic compounds.
These microorganisms’ dispersal in the soil is regulated by their wriggling and burrowing motions. So, despite their reputation for being filthy, they clean up rather well!
7. Make Food Available to Other Important Species
Worms are vital to the food chain just as much as they are vital for transferring nutrients, organisms, and decomposing debris when they are alive.
Other significant species like birds, hedgehogs, and frogs are offered a necessary, protein-rich source of food.
Our undercover allies are very wonderful. To preserve the health and balance of nutrients in the soil, it is necessary to protect these animals.
8. Encourage Microbiological Activity
Although earthworms ingest microbes for nourishment, their feces or castings include many more microorganisms than the organic materials they consume.
Organic material is broken up and infused with microbes as it travels through their intestines.
The increased microbial activity makes it easier for nutrients to be recycled from organic materials and transformed into forms that plants can easily absorb.
9. Improve Water-Holding Capacity
Earthworms can considerably improve the soil’s ability to retain water by fracturing organic materials and improving soil porosity.
10. Create Pathways for Root Growth.
Roots can enter the soil more easily because the pathways dug by deep-burrowing earthworms are lined with readily available nutrients.
Seeing the benefits earthworms brings to the soil as discussed above, it would be beneficial for you to employ these soil machines to do the work of improving the moisture, aeration, and nutrient content of your soil.
10 Importance of Earthworms in Soil – FAQs
How do Earthworms Help Plants Grow?
The amount of air and water that enter the soil is increased thanks to worms. They transform organic materials, such as grass and leaves, into substances that plants can utilize. Castings are a very valuable sort of fertilizer that animals leave behind after eating that aid in the growth of plants.
Why are Earthworms Important to Humans?
Numerous ecosystem services are provided to humans by these soil organisms. They assist in improving the growth of our crops, maintaining the conditions we require for our climate, and breaking down fallen leaves so that the nutrients can be returned to the soil.
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A passion-driven environmentalist by heart. Lead content writer at EnvironmentGo.
I strive to educate the public about the environment and its problems.
It has always been about nature, we ought to protect not destroy.